|U.S. 321 bridge project delayed again
After opening two lanes of the canal bridge on U.S. Highway 321 in July, officials hoped to have all four lanes open by year-end.
But that won’t happen, according to Mark Nagi, Tennessee Department of Transportation communications officer.
“The earliest that four lanes would be open is in the spring of 2018,” Nagi said in an email correspondence.
Delays in the project are nothing new. The project was approved in 2012 at an estimated cost of $69.3 million and an estimated completion date of May 31, 2015. Several other projected finish dates have come and gone since.
Chad Woodruff, project manager for Blalock & Sons, said in July that a sidewalk and parapet still needed to be installed on the closed portion of the bridge before those lanes could open. Tie-ins for new traffic flows are also still in progress.
A shared pathway to allow pedestrian traffic to pass across the bridge has slowed the project, Woodruff said Tuesday morning. The pathway was not part of the original plan.
Because of that, traffic has not been able to shift to the closed side of the bridge to allow for work on the ramps from and to Tellico Village Parkway.
Hopes are to open one lane on each side of the bridge soon to allow for work to be done on those ramps, but because colder weather has started to move in, it is unlikely paving can be done before April.
State Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, said the further delay was “disappointing,” and hoped it would be the last.
“Finally, eventually we’re going to be able to get this thing,” he said.
Demolition of the J. Carmichael Greer bridge over Fort Loudoun Dam is in progress with an estimated completion date of Feb. 28.
Mark Harrell, Loudon Parks and Recreation director, informed Loudon City Council during a Nov. 13 workshop that a portion of the bridge would be given to the city in order to build a bridge in Loudon Municipal Park.
“We met with (Blalock & Sons) about the possibility of getting some of the TVA dam bridge, the Fort Loudoun Dam bridge,” Harrell said. “Discussion has been going on for a couple of years with Jimmy Matlock’s office and it has come to fruition pretty fast. ... Basically they’re going to give us just about any of the steel that we need to build the bridge across the creek.”
Matlock gave a majority of the credit for the accomplishment to Harrell.
“I think the idea credit goes to Mark,” Matlock said. “I was kind of the one that put all the parties together. Mark thought since it was a part of the community for many years that it could continue to be of use in some capacity.”
It is unclear whether the bridge in the municipal park will be used for pedestrian or vehicle traffic since a review from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is still pending.
“It would have never happened if it weren’t for the construction company, the Blalock family,” Matlock said. “They came away in a big way with it.”
Construction starting soon
Work on the intersection of Highways 321 and 11 near downtown Lenoir City will begin before the end of the year, with Nagi estimating a start date “the first week in December.”
J&M Grading Division LLC, the contractor for the intersection project, has a pre-construction meeting scheduled for Nov. 28, with signs going up that week to warn drivers of construction.
“They’re widening 321 from approximately Simpson Road down to the intersection,” Angie Davis, project manager for J&M, said.
“Then they’ll have controlled access in the middle of that part. So there will be islands and curves. You’ll just have certain places you can turn and things like that.
“At the intersection they’re widening, putting some drainage in,” she added. “It will have four signs like what’s at the entrances to (the University of Tennessee) and things like that, the big signs. There’s going to be some trash cans and receptacles and things like that. So then you’ll have some utilities that have to be moved as part of that.”
Completion for that portion of the project is set for June 2018 when the contract with J&M concludes.
Nagi anticipates changes to traffic patterns will coincide with work beginning in December and throughout the remainder of the project.
“There will be a lot of work going on and we will do our best to make everyone aware of anticipated traffic pattern changes as they arise,” Nagi said.